Gaza Fulbright scholars a step closer to U.S. study

GAZA (Reuters) – Three Palestinian students hoping to take up prestigious scholarships to study in the United States despite an Israeli travel ban met U.S. consular officials on Thursday at the Israel-Gaza border for visa interviews.

“We are still afraid we may not be able to travel to the United States because Israel is not giving us permits,” said Fida Abed, one of the three Fulbright scholars.

“The American embassy officials said they were continuing to discuss that with Israeli authorities and they were also looking at alternative crossings, such as Rafah,” he said, referring to a passage between the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and Egypt.

Earlier this year, the U.S. government was embarrassed when it became public it had withdrawn Fulbright fellowships for seven Gaza students because Israel had not granted them exit permits from the blockaded territory.

After media reports about the students’ case, the United States restored the fellowships and formally asked Israel to allow them to leave the Gaza Strip.

Israel subsequently let four of the seven students travel to the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem for visa interviews, but citing security concerns, denied permits to the other three.

The three Israeli-banned students, whom Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said last month should be allowed out of the Gaza Strip, met consular officials at the Erez border crossing.

“Israeli authorities refused to allow us to enter Israel so the American employees came to us at the Erez crossing,” said Abed, who hopes to study towards an advanced degree in computer science in California.

He and the other two students were interviewed and fingerprinted as part of their visa applications, Abed said.

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